A Workforce for the Future

A thriving agri-food sector in Illinois is contingent upon attracting and retaining a workforce prepared for the future.

Did you know Illinois’ agri-food sector is the top economic generator in the state and a significant contributor to workforce? Illinois jobs directly related to food and agriculture, including farming and ranching, manufacturing and wholesale and retail functions, total over 900,000, representing nearly 15 percent of all Illinois employment. These jobs represent $34 billion in wages and generate an economic output of $147 billion dollars. When you add in the many industry-related indirect jobs, there are over 1.4 million jobs representing 23% of Illinois’ workforce and contributing $267 billion to the economy.[1]

Illinois’ agri-food sector is facing a critical workforce and skills gap, however, that if left unaddressed will affect the sector’s long-term economic sustainability, societal vibrancy, and resiliency.

  • There is a shortfall in qualified, diverse professionals in food and agriculture, and businesses are reporting difficulty in attracting qualified and skilled workers[2]
  • Misperceptions and lack of knowledge exists regarding career paths in the industry
  • Primary K-12 institutions are under resourced to teach about and showcase food and agriculture job and career opportunities[3]
  • 2- and 4-Year academic institutions are struggling to attract agri-food students and provide students skillsets demanded by industry today
  • The agri-food sector lacks racial and gender diversity
  • Fewer and fewer people have direct ties to agriculture, meaning the traditional pool of recruits is dwindling
  • Today’s generations want to “work for a purpose” and seek out companies and organizations that align with their values
  • Competition for talent is fierce in urban and rural areas alike
  • There are limited workforce activities and initiatives in place that focus exclusively on the breadth of the agri-food sector.
  • Currently available data isn’t necessarily comprehensive of the sector, systems-based, timely, or focused on future needs.

[1] Feeding the Economy, https://feedingtheeconomy.com/
[2] USDA NIFA/Purdue, https://www.purdue.edu/usda/employment/
[3]  Illinois Agriculture Education Teaching Vacancies, https://www.ilaged.org/jobopenings

Creative solutions that target systemic issues and collaborative cross-sector engagement are needed.

A consortium of agri-food businesses, academic institutions, non-profit organizations, and philanthropist are banding together to understand the future workforce landscape, assess areas for improvement, and advance opportunities that will position Illinois as a premier destination for attracting, training, and retaining a skilled and diverse workforce.

Are you and agri-food industry professional or educator in Illinois? 

Take a survey to share your insight on needs and opportunities for future workforce development in food and agriculture in Illinois.